The way state legislators — including the speaker of the House — are talking, there’s a good possibility the General Assembly sees movement in gambling legalization legislation in the coming session. Tuesday, members of the House Special Committee on Economic Growth held a hearing in Valdosta to discuss these possibilities with the public.
“Gambling is something that’s been talked about in this state for years, sometimes looked at in a better light than in other years,” said Committee Co-chairman Alan Powell, R-Hartwell. “There’s a constitutional provision in the state constitution that says the people of Georgia have to vote to change. Twenty-seven years ago, the citizens of Georgia were asked to vote for the lottery, by the governor when he ran for office.
“And a lot of people forget that constitutional amendment barely passed at that time, because … it takes two-thirds of the vote of both the House and the Senate to put that on the ballot for the people to vote on. So, it makes for a tedious process to say the very least.”
Powell said Georgia is 12th nationally for illegal sports betting and these days it’s less likely to involve parlay sheets from a bookie, but folks going online through their phones in ways that transcend state lines, and the state’s getting none of that revenue. He added that casino representatives said only a third of their revenue comes from gambling, while the other 66 percent comes from hotels, restaurants and entertainment.
Powell also made certain to remind attendees that the legalization process, if there is a desire to push it that far, requires a constitutional amendment that requires the support of not only a significant amount of legislators but also the votes of the public.
State Rep. Ron Stephens, R-Savannah, pointed out the ways the discussion’s changed on opening up this aspect of state law.
“Over the years I’ve chaired (the) Economic Development and Tourism (Committee) in the House — started some of this conversation back a few years ago,” Stephens said. “It’s changed, over time, from a gambling perspective to a tourism perspective, and from a gambling perspective to an entertainment perspective. The narratives change, but there is a need for revenue.”
Stephens also recognized the use of that revenue, noting the need for college scholarships, which he said are used at a level of 70 percent or less depending on the institution.
“The time has come, and we want to ask members of the General Assembly, how are you going to vote, yes or no?” Stephens said. “This is probably a pivotal time in economic opportunity in Georgia to bring tourism to Georgia in a way we’ve never seen before.”
On a question from the audience, Committee Co-chairman Brett Harrell said legislators are already working on an internet sales tax bill, which he said amounts to collecting taxes that are already due to state and local governments.
“All (the procedure) does is identify which party, which entity for collected and remitting the taxes due,” Harrell said. “So, on your phone or on your computer, if you’re going to a web platform, you’re doing a taxable transaction, that platform will now be the responsible party for collecting and remitting.”
He added that conservative projections show that during the first year after the law goes into effect, the state will collect around 80 million that’s already due and local governments will collect 70 million that’s already due today.